MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday defended the "debt of gratitude" that he honored in appointing a former budget official who is now facing a Senate inquiry over alleged overpriced pandemic supplies.
Christopher Lloyd Lao was chief of the budget department's procurement service when Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. won P8.6 billion in government contracts for face masks and COVID-19 test kits even if it was only incorporated in 2019 and only had a capital of about P625,000.
Duterte acknowledged Lao as his fraternity brother and a member of his campaign team before being appointed to government. The President said Lao also assisted his office with legal matters when he was still mayor of Davao City.
Addressing senators looking into transactions approved under Lao, Duterte said, "You do not have the ascendancy to question this executive prerogative. Of course, I will appoint people I know and trust just like other Presidents before me."
At a Senate hearing last week, Senator Franklin Drilon said "Lao admitted he did not exercise diligence in looking at the very simple fact: articles of incorporation, paid up capital..."
"Under these circumstances, Atty. Lao should be made liable for anti-graft, for entering into contracts which are grossly prejudicial to the interest of the government and failed, on his own admission, to exercise the necessary prudence in order to prevent these totally disadvantageous contract," added Drilon, a former justice, labor and executive secretary.
Lao's association with Duterte was earlier confirmed by the latter's longtime aide, Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go.
According to Go, Lao was a "volunteer election lawyer" during Duterte's 2016 campaign for the presidency, and then appointed to the Presidential Management Staff at the start of the term of the administration until early 2017.
He was then appointed to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, and then to the Department of Budget and Management in 2019, before resigning June of this year to apply for the position of Deputy Ombudsman.
"Anong masama kung magbayad ako ng utang? Magtanong kayo, saan ba galing itong tao. Bakit kayo? Hindi kayo nagtulong sa mga taong nagkautang na loob? Hindi kayo nagpuwesto ng mga tao noong nanalo kayo?" Duterte said in a taped speech that aired on Tuesday.
(What is wrong if I pay my debt? You ask where this person came from. How about you? Did you not help people you had a debt of gratitude to? Did you not appoint people when you won?)
Duterte said government awarded contracts to lowest bidders.
"Iyong bidding, ‘yong procurement na sabi ninyo mali, todohin n’yo ang imbestigasyon at kung may kulong, ikulong ninyo," he told lawmakers. "Hinahamon ko na kayo, ‘pag wala kayong makulong dito, wala kayo, purnada talaga."
(Ramp up the investigation of the bidding and procurement which you say is wrong, and if someone should be jailed, jail them. I am challenging you, if you fail to jail anyone here, you are nothing.)
He also told senators to refrain from questioning who he appoints to the executive branch.
"Do not run the department for Duque. Hayaan mo siya. Bantayan lang ninyo ang resulta kung tama ba," added the President.
(Let him be. Just check if the result is right.)
Aside from lawmaking, the Senate also performs an "oversight" function often through investigations "in aid of legislation," a crucial task in a political system of checks and balances.
Oversight also means reviewing how particular laws are implemented by relevant government agencies.